Thursday, August 4, 2011

limited to residents only

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education has been making the rounds, so of course I only just got around to reading it.

The main point is that long-form reading, i.e. the study of literature that we all remember from high school/college literature courses, is unsustainable beyond "a self-perpetuating minority that we shall call the reading class." It sounds snootier than it is, but not by much.

What bothers me about this article, and others like it, is the double-standard it perpetuates. You'd never read something like this about math or science - in fact, conventional wisdom is that students absolutely NEED to learn them, no matter how boring or difficult that process may be. Those skills are important, and they take effort.

And while I don't disagree with that, it sticks in my craw when that same educational culture turns around and declares that literature (and to a lesser-but-still-implied degree, the humanities) is a garnish; that the same rigor applied to learning math and science is both unnecessary and impossible to apply to books. Perhaps this is because we're not competing with other countries over who can produce the best sonnets, but there's still a condescension here that casts a sour light on my entire profession, and I can't just let it sail by without comment.

Besides, if I had to write papers about The Once and Future King, then so should everyone else. I hate suffering alone.

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